Science and engineering, life sciences, software development and creative industries featured in the annual College BEST (Business & Education through Training & Skills) Awards. The awards celebrate the creative and innovative talent within Northern Ireland’s six regional further education (FE) colleges in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Now in its 4th year, the event saw the largest number of finalists to date. Hosted in Ballymena, the Deputy Mayor welcomed all the finalists and delegates. Over 180 students across 107 innovative projects competed with projects demonstrating the application of STEM knowledge across a broad range of disciplines. In addition, for the first time in this event - finalists were shortlisted for placements on the Frontier Programme focusing on STEM subjects in Massachusetts’ and finalists were selected for fully funded places sponsored by ADS (the trade organisation advancing the UK Aerospace, Defence and Securities Body) to attend the Farnborough Airshow.
Both these events take place in Summer 2014. The overall winners, sponsored by Colleges were as follows:
BEST Award runner-up in the 16-18 category: Chelsie Gray & Lauren Allen, SERC Woodland Project, South Eastern Regional College
BEST Awards runner-up in the 19+ category: Julie-Anna Glass, Mobile Magazines, Southern Regional College
BEST Awards winner in the 16-18 category: Andrew Nicholl, Corey Agnew +11 team members, The Clinic – a video about the sexual health clinics within NRC, Northern Regional College
BEST Award winner in the 19+ category: Conan Mulraine & Kyle Clarke, Production of ethanol biofuels from waste produce, South Eastern Regional College
Two students from South West College, Omagh Campus were also presented with special awards at this year’s event. Pronsias McKenna, a second year student on the University of Ulster Foundation Degree in Building Services and Renewable Energies was presented with the Built Environment Award, sponsored by CITB-ConstructionSkills NI for his project entitled ‘Gasification – space heating for litter houses’. Second year student on the University of Ulster Foundation Degree in Contemporary Design and Manufacture, Brian Doherty was also awarded with the Innovation Award, sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for his redesign of a cattle feeder.
Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, speaking after awarding the prizes, said: ‘The future of our economy depends upon driving up skills levels, including in the crucial STEM areas. It is vital that we enthuse and inspire all our young people to study STEM courses and to progress to employment in the STEM related industries. To do this we must ensure that these sectors offer attractive employment opportunities, and that all young people are aware of the wide range of careers options available within these sectors. The further education college network plays an important role in providing the skills and education to underpin the growth of this sector in collaboration with industry and my Department.
The BEST Awards provide a platform to promote and showcase the world class STEM skills which have been developed and nurtured within our further education sector. I have been greatly impressed by all of the entries and the quality of this year’s competition is a testament to the creativity and innovation in our Colleges. This annual event will continue to enthuse and inspire our students to study and pursue careers in STEM subjects as these skills will be the driving force of Northern Ireland’s economy’. Speaking at the event, Councillor James McClean, Deputy Mayor of Ballymena stated: ‘I hope that students from the six colleges represented here have benefitted from this unique opportunity to showcase their entrepreneurial, creative and innovation skills through their exhibitions – I am sure there have been many problems to solve throughout the year to reach this point, but it is encouraging to see the numerous practical applications of STEM subjects which have finally come to fruition. Enterprise Development is a key objective of Council’s Corporate Plan. We recognise that today’s students are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and welcome such initiatives as this to equip students for industry.’
Colleges Northern Ireland Chief Executive Gerry Campbell added: ‘STEM skills are central to the re-balancing and re-building of our economy. I am confident that our students who have demonstrated their talents, abilities and creativity today can, and will, be integral to the future economic success of Northern Ireland’s business and industry in the years ahead’.